Silver Linings on a Dark Cloud

Norwich sun on River Yare.

 

Artists are often asked about gateways to creativity. The answer given will depend on where the artists believe ‘the muse’ doth dwell. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought – one holds that creativity is within the artist. The other says art exists outside the creator – in another dimension/world/state.

By now, I have lived and seen too much to say one belief is right or wrong – to do so would be both naive and arrogant. I will state, however, that both philosophies hold that creativity is available to everyone – and access to a heightened creative state can be achieved through various exercises many of which we’ve looked at here before – exercises such as freewrites, morning pages, ‘what ifs’, character studies and even physical exercise and displacement activities. There is another oft- referenced portal to creativity which remains controversial – although it doubtless works for some and that is ‘the black dog’, melancholia, depression.

Our culture is ridden with images of the tortured artistic soul sitting in his garret, slicing his ear off with one hand and producing master pieces with the other. We expect our creative minds to be troubled ones. I would like to write that this is a nonsense, that people can create just as good art in the happy state as they can in depression., but if I am to refer to my personal experience of the creative process, I have to admit that when I’m down I’m at my most creative and productive. And I so wish this were not the case.

Take this year, from January to June of 2012, I felt elated. There were many reasons for this feeling, amongst them a record previous year in terms of writing success, a move from a negative to a positive domestic set up, a new and better job, more free time and an expanding social life. And during this blissful period, I wrote one rather ropey short story.

In the first week of June, my mood fell down the plug hole. Again, there were a number of factors involved including health issues and some financial pressure and perhaps my impending birthday (July 24th) has something to do with it… But ironically, I also went down because I wasn’t writing/producing/moving forward as a writer. Dark thoughts began to wake me in the wee hours, spinning round my head until it is time to get up and face another day soaked in despondency and fear, feeling like I can’t go on.

I’ve in this funk for six weeks now, and during this short time, I’ve written three new short stories and the first draft of a full length stage play. I’ve contacted and set up meetings with directors in three countries re staging or broadcasting an award winning play. I’ve collated and edited all my short stories into a collection and I restarted entering short story competitions. I’m doing this because art is the only thing that doesn’t let me down when I feel wretched.

Art is my friend. I don’t currently have people around me in whom I can truly talk to, or lean on. It is not their fault. Living in Norwich, England, neither city nor country to which I have any ties, I am away from any people with whom I have history, deep friendships and connections. While I’ve made some friends here, one resists leaning on people you know for a relatively short period of time. So, I’m lonely and my feelings are going into my art.

I can’t say if melancholia allows a more direct route to the creativity inside you, or it brings the mind to a near trancelike state where the ‘other world’ can come rolling in. I don’t know. I do know however, that I wish it were not so. And given the choice of living in a positive state or producing art, I’d opt of the happy former everytime. I just wish I knew how to have both. I’m sure it is possible.

Meanwhile, I need to keep writing myself back to happiness…

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About suehealy

Multi award winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by the Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her 2016 play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and Etcetera Theatres in London. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, she spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

22 responses to “Silver Linings on a Dark Cloud

  • Jonathan

    Love this post (and the blog). Although I only write a personal blog, I can relate to those times when you sit, stare, and nothing comes… and then something unlocks somewhere, and the words flow.

    Have you heard of the “Artists Way” book? I’ve not read it, but it’s apparently behind the “750words” website, which encourages the NaNoWriMo style brain dump to get the cogs turning…

  • inkandpages

    Sue, I can so relate to your post here. You get to the heart of the matter: “I’m lonely and my feelings are going into my art.” I’ve had more of those black-dog days than I care to remember. And my birthday is looming too. :/

  • cynthianeale

    Thank you for your candid and honest blog about depression and writing. It reminds me of last week’s New Yorker, July 9 and 16th issue. In ‘Life and Letters.’ There are excerpts from ‘The Hunger Diaries’ by Mavis Gallant. She writes from Madrid, “Looking through the tangle of unfinished stories I carry with me everywhere, I find only three worth going on with, and am suddenly overcome by such a load of depression that I put the lot away. So much to finish and so much to keep me from it, like a wall of glass between myself and the page.” My husband read this aloud to me and said, “I’ve heard you say pretty much the same thing. I guess all writers go through this…” I, too, have been struggling immensely and much of it is because it feels futile to continue. Why? The state of the publishing industry perhaps and because my publisher for NORAH closed her business. I can’t query for another publisher. I’ve paid my dues in rejection letters. Not again. Not me. Not now. No, I’m not whining. I’ve tried to keep promoting my three novels, but decided to cancel events for the summer. I am, however, working on an essay/recipe book and researching for another novel. I am not producing as much as I would like and when I have a day of good writing, it feels as if I’m on top of the world. I am impressed with you being able to crank out good writing while experiencing melancholy. Thank you for sharing because it helps. Right now, all the blogs about super success in writing do not help.

  • Gordon

    You are in a tough spot, of that it is clear. I’ve lived with depression for many years. It can destroy you. Don’t let it do that to you. Depression is not easy for the person with it, nor for those around that person. The biggest problem that I know is the occasional person you’ll run up against that hasn’t a clue and will say something to you like, “Just get over it.” Right. Sure thing. Listen, the best thing that I can tell you is that you are not alone in the world. If you can try and get into a group and that way you can discuss your feelings and when you do you’ll learn that you can survive and you can. Don’t give in to this. I’ll write again later,

  • karenlee thompson

    I can relate to this post Sue. It does seem to be part and parcel of a writer’s life. I have a policy of embracing the funk for no more than 2 weeks at a time. I allow myself to wallow and I write whatever comes to me through the ether but self-preservation insists that after about 10 days, I force myself into other activities – parties, galleries, sport, anything and I write nothing for 2 or 3 days, even though it practically kills me. I don’t know if if would work for anyone but it stops me from falling into the abyss. It also helps to share (as you have done here and we have followed) with fellow artistic souls.

  • M.E. Garber

    I understand and empathize with your emotions, and the way creativity hungers for the low, depressed state. I, too, think we are closer to the veil, to the division between ‘human’ and ‘creative’ when we stop being dazzled by the world around us and the buzz of joyful living. Things I’ve written while in a blue period are often closer to their final form than things written while happier…but I’d rather be happy, of course. Except, would I really? I think not. I see too many people putting on ‘happy faces’ and getting along in the world who are truly miserable inside. I’d much rather be a bit of a Solemn Sue, serious and thoughtful both inside and out, than a Happy Henrietta hiding emptiness and misery behind her smiles. So, my advice? Embrace happiness when it comes, cherish it even. And learn to dwell with contentment (which is very different from happiness) when happy leaves for awhile. Good luck!

  • James O.

    So true. You’re not alone. If you discover some sort of secret to circumvent this circumstance, I hope you share.

  • Sarah Ann

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m not sure I should wish you luck with climbing out of the plug hole, but I do, and hope that the muse stays with you when you get there.

  • WESTOWN GIRL

    Great post Sue, sorry you’re having a rough time, see you soon:)

  • lawrenceez

    Hope it works out for you. I found London UK extra difficult to cope with at first.

  • claudiajustsaying

    Sue, I came across some interesting information doing research for my blog, “GPS and Your Hippocampus” I laugh every time I read it.
    The research indicates depression is genetic.You get one gene from each parent. There are yellow,(happy), blue (unhappy) and pink (one happy & one unhappy) genes. Add your DNA to life experience and well, you’re a writer, I’ve had my share of depression and at 64 yrs. of age knew why I spent so much time being sad and regret it. I now experiece happiness for no reason. My suggestion, try being happy for one hour a day, just like a writer writes for one hour a day. Becareful depression can become your best friend.

  • heretherebespiders

    Love the photo. And know what you’re talking about. I take it as it comes myself – but anything that sparks creativity can’t entirely be bad. Doesn’t it feel GOOD to write, too? Sort of a catch-22 in a way. I’ll keep Ireland warm for you 🙂 And I get dammed lonely here, too. But I got dammed lonely in America more often.

  • Michael Graeme

    Hello Sue,

    Yes, I’ve noticed this. I write more when I’m in the dumps. That’s a very good picture by the way. I’ve felt like that too. The only thing I can say is that it will will pass.

    It does seem odd that negative emotions should provide more energy for creative thinking than positive ones. There’s obviously something in human nature that makes this so, as if it feasts on decay and turns it into something new.

    I think when we’re labouring through a psychological fog, it means we’re nursing a lot of conflicting unconscious issues that need to break the surface, then we can transcend them and start feeling better. If we’re artistically inclined it comes out in our work. Maybe if we didn’t have that, we’d go mad.

    I like what you do here.

    Best wishes,

    Michael.

  • Lulls & Melancholy « Maleficus Amor

    […] “I can’t say if melancholia allows a more direct route to the creativity inside you, or it brings the mind to a near trancelike state where the ‘other world’ can come rolling in. I don’t know. I do know however, that I wish it were not so. And given the choice of living in a positive state or producing art, I’d opt of the happy former everytime. I just wish I knew how to have both. I’m sure it is possible.” ~Excerpt from Silver Lining on a Dark Cloud […]

  • jpbohannon

    It’s always a treat to read your posts. I too find myself much less productive when life seems too rosy. But the other side can be debilitating as well. Good luck to you and keep writing.
    By the way, the photograph is perfect.

  • Seb

    Ah hahaha, too true! There’s nothing like a good bit of melancholy and sadness to bring out the tortured soul in your writing! I think there is something about writing when you’re sad, a little more of your true self comes out and the reader can really feel those emotions. Also sad writing tends to make for a much more interesting read, a story about happy people in a happy world would be just…boring!

  • Marvin the Martian

    When I’m content (or frenetically busy), I don’t produce. If I’m bored or unhappy, I’m prolific. It’s a predictable rule.

  • cherryandcinnamon

    I hear you. And I hope you feel better soon. I too struggle with feeling lonely and that the place I live in doesn’t fit. Thank goodness for the internet and the support you can find here.
    For what its worth I read your blog regularly and I file away the emailed posts in their own folder for future writing reference 😉 I’m glad you are on here doing what you do!

  • boldbohemian

    I can relate to your words in this blog.

  • bardessdmdenton

    I so related to this post, Sue, as an artist and ‘just’ human being, the up-swings and down-swings, the sense that melancholy connects me with my writing more than feeling ordinarily happy. Love this line: ‘art is the only thing that doesn’t let me down when I feel wretched.’

    I know that sharing has helped to counteract the isolation I’ve felt, And so I thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience and feelings. Be well.

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